The rush is on at the big shops to replicate the “Manningcast” on ESPN. Will Serena and Venus Williams soon be debating tennis during the U.S. Open? How about Boston sports idiots Ben Affleck and Matt Damon simulcasting Red Sox-Yankees games? It’s all on the table, say agency sources.
For those not following, retired NFL stars Peyton and Eli Manning have been presiding over an amusing simulcast of ESPN’s Monday Night Football on ESPN2 featuring guests and back-and-forth banter between the brothers. About two million people watched last week, which is tiny by NFL standards but huge as an ancillary add-on to the traditional broadcast. Eight more “Manningcasts” are planned for this season.
It’s a fun show, and an interesting business story. Simulcasts could be the future of sports television, and potentially all live TV. They provide a value-add option for casual viewers and, more importantly, a reason to watch live. Young people increasingly consume sports via clips on social media and league-owned apps, and ratings are declining for everything except the NFL (and even football viewers are getting older, per Nielsen). Stunts like college coaches yakking over the game, or Nickelodeon airing touchdowns accompanied by slime cannons and SpongeBob, have shown early success.
ESPN’s Jimmy Pitaro knows this, but the right talent is soooo essential. Peyton, who has topped the wishlists of sports broadcasters since he retired in 2015, held out for something exactly like this. He’s got a three-year deal worth a little less than $10 million a year, I’m told, but it’s less about the money and more about leveraging the platform to build a LeBron-style business. He’s producing the Manningcast via his Omaha Productions, which makes the Peyton’s Places shows for ESPN+, and he’s already expanding into other content for ESPN. I’m told that Omaha also has sold a kids competition show to NBC and a docu-series to Netflix (neither has been announced yet). It’s a smart model for everyone.
Hence the scramble to replicate it. Basically every retired athlete with a big personality is being examined, I’m told. And there’s no reason why the format can’t work for non-sports programming. Imagine Disney simulcasting the Oscars on ESPN with Aaron Rodgers and Shailene Woodley and some dishy friends? Or on Freeform with fashion influencers? A&E canceled Live PD, its top-rated show, last summer amid the George Floyd protests. What if the broadcast was relaunched with a simulcast on another A+E-Networks channel, with a host exploring issues of police brutality and abuses of power? Again, the right talent is essential.
As cord-cutting accelerates, the pressure is already building on cable networks to justify their carriage fees and inclusion in a shrinking bundle. Simulcasts can help keep people in the bundle and remind them that some of these lesser cable channels still exist, and might even be worth watching.